Six years ago I entered the turbulent world of homeownership. I dove in head first by moving in with my boyfriend and getting a puppy the same day we closed. Adding to the chaos, we decided to purchase a duplex with a rental on the second floor. Now responsible for renting and managing an apartment, taking care of a rescue dog that was afraid of life itself, and finding a suitable renter, overwhelmed was a feeling I had far surpassed the second those keys and leash fell into my hands. The learning curve in all three categories was steep and I’d be lying if I said we now have a firm grasp on each responsibility. Home projects bring me both joy and strife. I'm thankful on good days and anywhere from angry to terrified on bad ones. The good definitely outnumber the bad and through it all I've found some hobbies I never knew I'd grow to love.
Over the years, the boyfriend and I got married, adopted a second dog, and have said farewell to our final renter (!!) as we prepare to convert the old barn (1904 Dutch Colonial painted Barn Red) back into a single family home. I’ve learned to do a number of handy household chores; projects I would never have dreamed of undertaking at the age of 24, and stumbled into a deep appreciation for gardening. At first it seemed daunting, like a puzzle that needed solving. Now in the heart of our sixth gardening season, I’ve come to love our summer months beyond the lovely warmth it brings.
Back in 2008, as we sorted through a never-ending pile of boxes, Corbin (husband) plotted out our vegetable garden over about half of the north side of our front, full sun yard abruptly starting our foray into urban gardening. Each subsequent year our crop yield has varied, our garden plots have expanded, and we’ve made a few mistakes that ideally prepared us for the next year’s planting season.
Gardening brings me so much joy throughout the summer. There is something gratifying about watching a plant grow from a seed, seedling, or small plant into something large, beautiful and edible. I love sharing what I grow with friends and the best is sitting down to a meal cooked with fresh pickings from your front yard (or wherever your bed may be).
The Mistakes I've Made and What I learned.
We bought quite a few starter plants from the farmer’s market and planted seeds for the remainder of the space. In the past we made the rookie mistake of thinking we could manage the whole lot from seed. And when that failed miserably from lack of sunlight and moisture, then too much moisture, then a few other issues I couldn’t even identify, we opted for purchasing established plants for the staples–tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, as well as herbs–and trying seeds for the less vital fruit and veg. Sometime in the future I hope to successfully grow everything from seed but until that time comes, I’m happy with my farmers market purchases.
What I think we did right:
- Southside Farm Store recommended chicken manure over cow for the nitrogen. A little goes a long way and we will certainly do this again! Warning though, it is stinky and dogs love to eat the shit, literally.
- String beans want to climb, really high. Last year we gave our beans a 7 foot trellis and I’m sure if it was 10 they would have kept going. So. Many. Beans. So little time.
- We now put our herbs in planters rather than the ground. Some herbs can keep going all year so why let them die at the first frost? It's also easier to place them in shade or direct light, depending on each plant's individual preference.
- Marigolds around the perimeter of the garden help repel rodents. I’ve read garden forums where posters both agree and dispute that marigolds can deter rabbits from munching on garden goodies. Either way, it worked for us, and even if it hadn’t the flowers added nice color and foliage contrast. I've also read that pet fur helps, I have no solid proof it works yet every time the Furminator comes out I stuff tufts of shepherd fluff into the corners of each bed. Lastly, blood meal is efficient at keeping rabbits out. Another stinker, but the odor is worth it.
And what we did wrong:
- Watering is always a challenge, especially as the dog days of summer roll around and the intense afternoon sun beats down and wilts green leafy plants and kills flowers on tomatoes. It also took me a few years to grasp that watering is best done well after or before the sun sets/rises. Learned this after some severe burns from the sun heating up a glistening pepper plant nearly killed the entire thing.
- Not protecting seedlings from sparrows. While I was all worried about rabbits and squirrels I didn’t think birds would be an issue. A few years ago I had the frustrating experience of coming home to see little baseball-sized divots in the soil where birds snuffed out seeds.
- Providing tomatoes with enough support is crucial to their ability to produce. Tomato cages never seem to be strong enough once the plants go into full production. The fruit always outweighs the stalks and branches. This can leave the fruit extremely vulnerable to thirsty rodents who swoop up ripe tomatoes to drink the liquid out of and discard the rest. We now have an intricate web of poles, string, cages and gates holding it all up and they are abundantly happy for it! And a bowl of water near the bed to satisfy the little shits' thirst.
Enough chatter, how about some photos!?